By Brandon Reid
Senior Assistant Editor
Did you know Rockford was home to one of the first men’s professional baseball teams?
In 1871 (Chicago Cubs were established in 1870, Chicago White Sox in 1894), the Rockford Forest Citys — led by future National Baseball Hall of Famer Cap Anson — became one of the first ball clubs to pay players.
The team played its first, and only, season at the west-side Agricultural Society Fair Grounds, now Rockford Park District property. The team finished ninth in the league with a 4-21 record.
The Forest Citys were charter members of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NAPBBP), active from 1871 to 1875. The league succeeded and incorporated several professional clubs from the National Association of Base Ball Players, and several of its clubs created the succeeding National League.
Prior to joining the NAPBBP, from 1868 to 1870, future Hall of Famer Albert Spalding (a Byron, Ill., native and co-founder of A.G. Spalding sporting goods company) and infielder Ross Barnes starred for Rockford while the club was still considered an “amateur” team.
The Rockford Forest Citys are just a small piece of the fabric of the Rockford region’s rich sports history. As the region works toward becoming a top sports tourism desination, maybe it’s time to consider creating a Rockford Region Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
A committee could be created to oversee the Hall of Fame ballot and selection process, with nominations open to the public, a ballot selection committee narrowing down the ballot, and ballots being sent to area leaders in the sports industry (Aviators, IceHogs, Rockford Speedway, Rockford Park District, high school sports leaders, etc.), TV and newspaper sports reporters, Rockford historians, tourism leaders and other qualified members.
The Hall of Fame Museum could honor the region’s rich sports history and the accomplishments of area leaders in the sports industry, including teams, individual athletes, coaches, supporters, organizers, organizations, reporters and events. The museum could also serve as a repository of local sports memorabilia, historical items, statistics and local sports records.
Among notable nominees for the museum could be the Rockford Forest Citys, Albert Spalding, Cap Anson, the Rockford Peaches, Dallas West, Kenny Gould, Chad Knaus, John Knaus, Bobby Wilberg, Joe Shear, Tom Powell, Danica Patrick, Travis Kvapil, Webbs Norman, Rockford Speedway/Deery family, Stan Burdick, Alex Saudargas, Rockford West High School basketball state championship teams and other area high school sports champions, Tim Mattila, Rockford Icemen, Ernie Kent, Ed Viesturs, Larry Young, Dan Appino, Steve Goers, Rockford Lightning, Rockford IceHogs, Rockford Aviators, Rockford Thunder, Head of the Rock Regatta, Carlos Polk, Sean Considine, Preston Pearson, Brad Ring, Gene Lamont, Rodney Myers, Ken Rudolph, Ed Swartwood, Sally Wessels, Jamie Hogan, Chris Beto, Alex Welsh, Steve Cherundolo, Harry “Hap” Milne, Alexe Gilles, Janet Lynn and many others.
Please note, these names are just examples. Many more are also deserving of recognition, and that’s why there would be a nomination process. Ultimately, the point of this editorial is not to list deserving nominees, but to show the Rockford region is deserving of such a museum.
Since part of the city’s goal is to build along the Rock River, the museum could be somewhere in the downtown area near the river, or otherwise near other museums, such as near the Riverfront Museum Park campus.
The museum could serve as a space to preserve and honor our region’s rich sports history, featuring permanent exhibits and hosting induction ceremonies, autograph signings, school field trips, traveling exhibits, special guest appearances, community outreach and other events throughout the year. A complementary website could offer details about exhibits, bios of inductees, information about special events, merchandise and memorabilia.
Considering the large number of athletes and others associated with the sports world who have come from the Rockford region, such a museum could be a local, regional and possibly even national draw for sports fans and sports history buffs. Particularly if the museum were near another facility that drew a large number of sports fans — such as the BMO Harris Bank Center, one of the Sportscore locations or the new indoor sports complex set to open in fall 2014 on South Madison Street — fans could stop by the museum prior to or after attending sporting events. The museum could even have a restaurant or café on site to draw more visitors.
Beyond sharing our rich sports history with tourists and other visitors, such a museum could instill in our youth the sense that their accomplishments matter. And if the museum offered community outreach and welcomed school field trips, our children could learn positive examples and be inspired by people from right here in the Rockford region.
The City of Rockford, Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Rockford Park District, area sports organizations and other interested parties — public or private — should come together to form such a Hall of Fame and Museum. It’s time Rockford started honoring its history and the contributions of its residents, as opposed to bulldozing them.
From the June 19-25, 2013, issue